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Steve McHugh

Extending Kindness Throughout Our Lives

Recently I attended a lecture by author Kathleen Norris. During the course of her talk she shared a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria, a first century Jewish philosopher: “BE KIND for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I loved the simplicity of the words, but also the profound meaning behind them. I suspect all of us have “battles” we are fighting in our lives. They could be bad memories, addictive behaviors, physical or mental health issues, difficulties in relationships, financial problems, job concerns, etc. etc. The list could go on endlessly. Whatever battle an individual is fighting, though, it is very often unseen and in many cases known only to a few.

So, recognizing that everyone has their own personal battle they are fighting, the real question is how do we “be kind” to everyone? Well, I think this is easier than some might think. In fact, I think it can be boiled down to four simple things. 

  1. Give people the benefit of the doubt. It is easy for all of us to observe what we “perceive” to be someone’s bad mood or poor behavior, and then respond in kind. More often than I care to admit, when I think someone is being indifferent, unfriendly, or mean, I mirror that behavior in my response to them. We need to remember, though, that we are dealing with our perception, and perception doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. Perhaps the individual is just preoccupied with a difficulty or a problem they are dealing with. Or perhaps, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and aren’t ready to deal with the world outside themselves. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a very simple way to be kind. 
  2. Don’t take out your bad mood on someone else. Too often when I am having a bad day, or when I’m overly tired, or when I am worried about something, I can easily share that bad mood with almost everyone I encounter. The challenge for all of us is to recognize when we are “out of sorts,” for whatever reason, and then make a conscious choice to keep our bad mood to ourselves. I have a friend who regularly gives themselves a “time out” when they recognize that they are in a bad mood. It gives them time to think about what issue/concern is the source of their bad mood, and then find a constructive way to deal with that. Not taking out our bad mood on someone else is an easy way to be kind. 
  3. Don’t talk about people behind their backs. When we criticize or denigrate others, particularly when there is no way for them to explain or defend themselves, this demonstrates a serious lack of charity on our part. In effect, we are passing judgement on them “in absentia.” Failing to honor the name and character of someone in their absence is always inappropriate. Not talking about someone behind their back is another easy way to be kind. 
  4. Say a quick prayer. I suggest this because it never ceases to amaze me what a difference it can make to pause for a moment to pray for someone or to pray for myself. Prayer helps to take the focus off of me and my feelings, and reminds me that God is always offering us God’s grace to help us deal with, work through, overcome or forgive whatever is causing us not to be charitable. Saying a quick prayer for someone or for ourselves is an easy way to be kind. 

Being kind is not always easy, especially when we don’t know what battle someone is fighting. Perhaps, though if we are kind to others, they in turn will be kind to us. And who knows, that kind of mutual kindness could even start a trend. 

Comments

I heard this quote in a Podcast On Being with Krista Tippet and Jon Cabot Zinn several years ago. The concept of everyone is fighting a great battle has helped me to become a more patient and compassionate person. I loved what you had to say about what this quote means to you. It has given more meaning of this quote for me. Thank you.

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